We interview former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer on the Obama administration’s new approach to policy making in the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the future of the two-state solution. Recorded January 26.
We discuss with Princeton Professor Edward Felten the recent hacking of American companies from within China, cyberattacks more broadly, and the United States’s cybersecurity capability. Recorded March 4.
Princeton Professor of Chemical Engineering, Yueh-Lin Loo, joins us to talk about “conducting polymers,” the exciting field of “plastic electronics,” and the new technique she invented that allows scientists to shape plastics into a useful form while maintaining high conductivity. Her breakthrough paves the way for plastics to replace metals in a wide range of electronic devices, including plastic solar panels.
Learn about polymers, find out how they can be made to conduct electricity, and imagine a world of plastic electronics. Listen here: Professor Lynn Loo 4-18-10.
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced that his country will convert their nuclear research reactor to using low enriched uranium as part of a global effort to secure weapons-grade nuclear materials. The plan calls for a trilateral effort on the part of Mexico, Canada and the United States to carry out the conversion, along with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). President Obama is currently leading a 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, pressuring world leaders to introduce new measures to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons.
The threat of nuclear terrorism has been the hallmark issue for the first day and a half of the Summit. In his opening remarks, Obama called that threat one of the greatest threats to global security and said that the risk of a nuclear attack has risen. In announcing his government’s decision, Calderon indicated his shared concern for the terrorist threat.
Mexico has a “strong commitment to prevent and suppress nuclear terrorism,” said Calderon in a statement. ”With this kind of cooperation with the IAEA and our North American partners, we [will] definitely contribute to reducing the risks associated with illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.”
Both Obama and Canadian President Steven Harper have expressed their strong support for Mexico’s decision. Highly enriched uranium, which Mexico currently uses in its reactor, can be used for the creation of nuclear weapons. As part of his push to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, Obama has levied pressure on other nations to convert their reactors to using low enriched uranium, which cannot be used for weapons.
In other news, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden made a surprise visit to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The First Lady is currently on her first solo trip abroad, on which she plans to visit Mexico. Her visit to Haiti comes on the three-month anniversary of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake the destroyed much of the capital city.
The White House kept her planned visit secret, only releasing the information once she had landed. During the visit, the First Lady took a helicopter tour of the capital. A White House statement said that her visit was designed to underscore the US’s commitment to rebuilding Haiti.
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – After a profitable opening day at the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama hopes for further gains in promoting an international cooperative effort to secure fissile materials. Yesterday, Ukraine announced that it will remove its entire highly enriched uranium stockpile by 2012. Canada also announced that it would be transferring highly enriched uranium back to the United States.
These announcements came amidst a long and strenuous push by the Obama administration to develop a global consensus on the need to take action to secure nuclear materials. Both highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons. Obama has called the threat of nuclear terrorism the single greatest threat to US national security.
Last week, administration officials said that they hoped for nations to announce concrete steps that they would take to secure their nuclear materials. This morning, Obama reiterated the need for these steps and the dangers of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists.
“This is an unprecedented gathering to an unprecedented threat,” he said referring to the Summit. ”The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. The dangers of nuclear terrorism are one of the greatest threats to global security.”
Obama appeared encouraged yesterday by Ukraine and Canada’s announcements. Prior to officially greeting the heads of delegation for the 46 other nations attending the Summit, he called the first day’s progress impressive.
“I think it’s an indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic,” he said. ”I think at the end of this we’re going to see some very specific, concrete actions that each nation is taking that will make the world a little bit safer.”
In other important news from the Summit’s sidelines, China has apparently agreed to pursue a new round of sanctions against Iran. This could be a major victory for the US and its allies, who have been pushing for months for new sanctions. Western governments believe that Iran is enriching uranium in order to pursue nuclear weapons. Tehran claims that their program is for strictly peaceful purposes.
This will be the fourth round of sanctions against Iran, which has continued for years to enrich uranium in violation of the 2006 UN Security Council Resolution 1737. Iran recently heightened tensions by announcing the planned construction of several new underground reactors. China, which has strong economic ties with Iran, has generally opposed sanctions against the regime.
“China always believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way out for the issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. ”Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it.”
Nevertheless, the White House appears encouraged about the prospects of Chinese cooperation after yesterday’s bilateral meeting between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. The US needs China’s support because of China’s veto ability within the UN Security Council.
“The discussion was as sign of international unity on Iran,” Obama aide Jeff Bader said. ”The two Presidents agreed to instruct their delegations to work on a sanctions resolution. The resolution will make clear to Iran the costs of pursuing a nuclear program that violates Iran’s obligations and responsibilities.”
The White House said that specifics were still being worked out but would be finalized in the coming days and weeks. Obama has pushed for a resolution to be passed this spring. His goal of banning investment in Iran’s energy sector, however, may face continued resistance from Beijing and Moscow.
Today, President Obama is holding two plenary sessions with delegates at the Nuclear Security Summit. He will also continue bilateral meetings with the leaders of Turkey, Argentina and Germany. Administration officials expect more concrete measures to secure nuclear materials to be announced later in the day.
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – President Obama met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao for an hour and a half on Monday during the first day of the Nuclear Security Summit. White House officials said that the two leaders spent much of their time discussing Iran’s nuclear belligerence. Iran has for years been in violation of United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 1737, which requires Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programs.
Western governments believe that Iran is developing its nuclear capabilities in order to create nuclear weapons. Tehran disputes that and claims that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful research and energy purposes. Washington wants to start a new round of UN sanctions against Iran this spring.
In previous negotiations, China, which has close economic ties with Tehran, has consistently been Iran’s staunchest supporter of, often preventing Western nations from passing stricter measures. After today’s meeting, however, China may be more willing to cooperate on sanctioning Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“They are prepared to work with us,” White House official Jeff Bader said. ”The two Presidents agreed [that] the two delegations should work together on sanctions.”
Bader is the National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs. In addition to discussing Iran, Bader confirmed that Hu and Obama talked about currency matters, though he did not disclose whether anything was agreed on relating to that topic.
The White House has recently been pressuring China to reform its monetary policy so that they no longer undervalue the yuan. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently visited Beijing to press the Chinese on their currency manipulation and the effect that has had on the US-Chinese trade imbalance.
In a gesture of kindness towards Hu Jintao, however, the White House agreed to delay its planned mid-April determination of whether the Chinese are manipulating their currency until after Hu returned from the Summit. Persuading the Chinese to back down on both sanctions against Iran and its monetary policy will likely be extremely difficult. White House officials expect, though, that China will at least be willing to compromise on Iran.
“We expect a resolution this spring, which would be a matter of weeks,” National Security Council adviser Ben Rhodes said.
The details of this resolution will likely still be highly contested. Both Beijing and Moscow have opposed the US proposal to ban new investments on Iran’s energy sector, leaving much speculation about just how much Washington and its NATO allies can push through.
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – Ukraine agreed today to remove its entire highly enriched uranium stockpile by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. The announcement came early on the first day of an unprecedented gathering of world leaders to discuss means of securing vulnerable nuclear materials. This year’s Nuclear Security Summit includes 47 nations and is being held Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Ukraine’s announcement came as a relief to the Obama administration, which has been pressuring participating nations to announce concrete measures to improve the security of weapons-grade nuclear materials. Ukraine currently has enough highly enriched uranium to make several nuclear bombs.
The announcement came immediately after a bilateral meeting this afternoon between Obama and President Victor Yanukovich of the Ukraine. White House officials hailed it as “a landmark decision” and praised the Ukraine’s “leadership” in securing nuclear materials.
“This is something that the United States has tried to make happen for more than ten years,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
In order to remove the highly enriched uranium, the Ukraine will convert its civil nuclear research facilities to using low enriched uranium, which cannot be used for weapons. Plans for what to do with the removed uranium have not been finalized, but a likely outcome is that the United States will accept custody of the material. Ukraine announced that it plans to begin removing “a substantial part of those stocks” by years end.
Princeton University Professor and long-time nuclear security expert Dr. Frank von Hippel called the announcement “very good news.” ”The Ukrainians have been very ambivalent about letting go of this highly enriched uranium,” he said. ”[This is] just the kind of fall-out from the Summit that was hoped for, but uncertain.”
Chile made a similar decision to remove its significantly smaller stockpile of highly enriched uranium earlier this year. Last month it was successfully transferred in secret to the United States for secure storage.
Ukraine has a long history of pursuing nuclear non-proliferation. The former Soviet republic, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, agreed in 1994 to remove all the left over Soviet nuclear munitions from its territory.
“Ukraine has been an international leader on disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation and a valued partner in the implementation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) since its historic 1994 decision,” a White House statement said.
Obama hopes for other nations to make similar announcements about steps they plan to take to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons. Yesterday, the President called nuclear terrorism the single greatest threat to national security.
“If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating,” he said. ”We know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”
Administration officials have stressed for the past week the need for an international consensus on the threat of nuclear terrorism. Relatively small amounts of fissile material could allow terrorists to create either a dirty bomb — a device that could contaminate an area with radioactivity — or an outright nuclear bomb. According to US intelligence sources, many terrorist organizations have been actively seeking these materials for years.
“The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, it is serious, [and] it is growing,” said John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. ”Over the past there has been indisputable evidence that dozens of terrorist groups have actively sought some type of weapon of mass effect.”
Whether other nations will listen to and take action to prevent this threat, however, remains to be seen. Obama appeared Monday afternoon, however, to remain hopeful.
“I think it (the Summit) is an impressive indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic,” he said. ”I think and the end of this we’re going to see some very specific, concrete actions that each nation is taking that will make the world a little bit safer.”
Here are photos from the first day of the Nuclear Security Summit, courtesy of my trusty cell phone camera.
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – Ukraine has announced that it will remove all highly-enriched uranium by 2012. The former Soviet republic has at least 90 kilograms of the material, which could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The announcement comes in the midst of a 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C.
John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, made the announcement during the White House Daily Press Briefing. According to him and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the material will most likely be held in the United States. Details, however, are still being worked out.
At least 90 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium are currently held by the Ukraine in facilities like the Kiev Institute for Nuclear Research and the Sevastopol Institute of Nuclear Energy and Industry. President Obama met with President Victor Yanukovich of the Ukraine earlier today to discuss the planned transfer.
Last month Chile moved its 18 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium to the United States under a top-secret transfer. The agreement with Chile was part of a long-standing US offer to trade for highly-enriched uranium and plutonium. Highly-enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons or so-called dirty bombs.
The Nuclear Security Summit is designed to head-start a global movement to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and prevent terrorist organizations from obtaining nuclear capabilities. US intelligence sources report that al-Qaeda and other terrorists are actively seeking nuclear materials in order to create an improvised nuclear device.
“The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” President Obama said yesterday. ”This is something that could change the security landscape of this country and around the world for years to come. If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.
Today the Nuclear Security Summit gets under way. President Obama already met with King Abdullah II of Jordan here at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. No word on what they discussed, though a read-out should be available soon. Security is tighter here than I’ve ever seen it. The U.S. Army is out in force, though they appear to be unarmed. Army trucks line most of the streets and intersections stretching out for many blocks away from the Convention Center. Groups of soldiers can be seen on the street corners, along with scores of police and Secret Service. Near the Convention Center the streets are blocked off with heavy-duty black riot fencing and concrete barriers. Heavily armed Secret Service are everywhere and inside the Convention Center every area is heavily guarded. As one reporter said in the official pool report this morning, “the city is basically a police state today with so many leaders to protect.” A few protestors were seen outside the barriers, though I couldn’t make out what they were protesting because their signs were in Chinese.
Now for the real news. President Obama is currently in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia. Later today he will also hold bilaterals with President Victor Yanukovich of Ukraine, President Serzh Sargsian of Armenia, and President Hu Jintao of China. Yesterday he met with the leaders of India, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Pakistan and Nigeria. Below are my summaries of what was discussed at each of those meetings.
India – global development, economic infrastructure, food security, poverty reduction, Afghanistan, the Nuclear Security Summit, counterterrorism, and nuclear non-proliferation
Kazakhstan – extensive talk on nuclear safety and non-proliferation, Afghanistan, investment and trade, democracy, civil contacts between the US and Kazakhstan, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; for more details, check out the official joint statement from the meeting at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/joint-statement-meeting-between-president-obama-and-kazakhstan-president-nazarbayev
South Africa – nuclear security, South Africa’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, Iran, South Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, climate change and clean energy, Zimbabwe, and the 2010 World Cup
Pakistan – the April 5 terrorist attack on the US Consulate and the simultaneous attack against a political event, the March 24-25 Strategic Dialogue between the US and Pakistan, increasing Pakistani popular support for the US-Pakistani relationship, US assistance to Pakistan, and energy-sector projects in Pakistan
Nigeria – global security, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, terrorism, democracy, fighting corruption, economic development and internal conflict
The biggest news of the day was right before Obama’s meeting with President Zuma of South Africa, when he spoke to the press and gave us the sound bites needed for the evening’s newscasts and this morning’s papers. Notably, he said that “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that could change the security landscape of this country and around the world for years to come. If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”
That’s all for now. Obama should be about ready to meet with President Yanukovich of the Ukraine. In about an hour, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan will hold a press briefing here at the Convention Center. I’ll update with a new post after that with the news of today. Also, quickly, Vice President Biden has been in bilateral meetings this morning and will be hosting a lunch with several world leaders at the Naval Observatory. More on that after the press briefing.